The 10 most beautiful gadgets of all time
16th Apr 2013 | 12:00
Speakers, smartphones, Sinclairs and superbikes
Gadgets aren't always the prettiest of things, which is why they're often relegated to the undersides of desks or the backs of TV cabinets. But that doesn't mean gadgets can't be gorgeous.
From razor-thin phones to frighteningly fast electric bikes, home automation to home robots, these are the gadgets that wrap their electronic innards in beautiful bodies.
Have we missed one of your favourites? Let us know in the comments.
1. iPhone 4/4S
The iPhone 4/4S is Apple's mobile masterpiece - a flawed one, certainly, as Antennagate demonstrated, but a masterpiece nonetheless. Jonathan Ive's redesign of the widely imitated original iPhone introduced new materials, new construction techniques and the brand new Retina display, and the overall result was a device that was as beautiful when it was switched off as when it was switched on.
The iPhone 5 may be thinner and even more cleverly engineered, but to our eyes the 4/4S was the phone perfected.
2. Nest Thermostat
No, we haven't been eating suspiciously ripe cheese again: we genuinely think a heating controller is one of the most beautiful gadgets around - and not just because every other thermostat we've ever seen has been soundly beaten by the ugly stick.
Designed by Tony Fadell, the iPod designer The Economist brilliantly called "the Podfather", the Nest isn't just about the industrial design: its easy, effective and attractive software is a big part of its appeal too. We wish all home electronics were as pretty as this.
3. Sinclair ZX81
The Sinclair ZX81? Beautiful? For geeks of a certain vintage, OH GOD YES. It might have been an unprepossessing slab of black plastic with a spectacularly horrible keyboard, but the ZX81's beauty wasn't so much about its appearance as much as what that little box represented.
It was a proper, programmable computer that you could have in your house and program to print insults about your siblings. Back in 1981 that was pretty mind-blowing, and we suspect that slightly younger geeks feel much the same way about early 1990s US Robotics modems.
4. Motorola Razr V3
These days Motorola Razrs are competent but unmemorable Android phones, but 2004's Razr V3 looked like nothing else on Earth - and it still doesn't look particularly dated.
A design so beautiful that even Motorola's horrible UI couldn't spoil it, the Razr V3's ultra-slim clamshell made it a smartphone supermodel in an era when most phones prized function over form. If Apple hadn't invented the iPhone we'd all be lusting after Razrs today.
5. Sony AIBO
Pretty much anyone can design something lovely, but how about loveable? That's much tougher, but Sony's engineers managed it with AIBO (Artificial Intelligence Robot), the cute robots it made from 1999 to 2005.
Some AIBOs were more successful than others - we prefer the Simba-esque "lion cub" design of the ERS-210 to the trying-too-hard "sinister-looking puppy dog" ERS-311 - but at its best an AIBO was a gadget that you could genuinely fall in love with.
6. Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus speakers
Beautifully designed or over-designed? Our money's on the former: those jaggy bits aren't just for show, but to absorb and tune the sound from the aluminium tweeters.
B&W reckons that the Nautilus speakers are "the very pinnacle of technological innovation to which all others must aspire" and that it hass created "as near as possible, the perfect loudspeaker," and you can have a pair of your own for just £55,000 (around AU$80,228 / US$84,463). If your budget's a bit more modest, B&W's Zeppelin Air will set you back around £500 (around AU$729 / US$768).
7. Braun T1000
Jonathan Ive has long cited Braun's Dieter Rams as a key inspiration, and Rams' 1960s T1000 World Receiver radio clearly inspired Apple designs such as the G5 Power Mac and the Mac Pro.
Ive describes Rams' work as "consistently beautiful, so right and so accessible", and the T1000 is one of several Rams designs that have inspired Ive's work at Apple: you can see Rams' T3 radio in the iPod, and his LE1 speaker in the iMac. The design may be nearly five decades old, but the T1000 still looks stylish and contemporary today.
8. Macbook Air
Can traditional computers get any prettier than the MacBook Air? Judging by the rest of the PC industry's response, the answer appears to be no: the Air is one of the most widely imitated laptops the tech industry has ever seen.
As our own Paul Lamkin put it in our review, the design "has become a classic, a blueprint for contemporary technology done correctly, and an inspiration for the ever-increasing Ultrabook brigade."
Read our MacBook Air 2012 review
9. Lito Sora electric motorcycle
Designing electric vehicles is hard: if they're too bland, too out-there or too cute then customers will be bored, frightened or appalled - and that means they'll stay away in droves. We don't think that'll happen to Lito's Sora electric motorbike, which should finally start shipping this year.
Rather than nicking ideas from sci-fi movies or copying existing racing bikes, Lito has created a high-tech motorcycle that looks like an old-school bruiser. It can be yours for around £30,000 (around AU$43,771 / US$46,080).
10. Gibson Firebird X
Gibson isn't the only iconic luthier making electronic guitars - Fender's been slapping circuits into its Stratocasters too - but we love the way the Firebird X takes the wonderfully odd looks of the famous Firebird and adds a dollop of digital delights including robot tuning and onboard effects.
It's a shame that the actual guitar isn't as good as its looks and price tag (£3,299 - or around AU$4,814 / US$5,068) suggest: MusicRadar reckons you'd be better off with a non-digital Gibson.
Read MusicRadar's Gibson Firebird X review